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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
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Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Best and Worst of Intellectual Blogs 2007

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 12/25/07 at 04:26 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Uncollected thoughts on the year in academic, political, and cultural writing online. 

What a very long year it’s been. It’s been a year shaped by the evolution of political discourse in this country and around the world. Here, as people grew increasingly sick of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq, Democrats regained ground. An appreciation for “intelligent,” sensible approaches to complex problems—the basic Democratic credo since Bill Clinton, but one overshadowed by Bush’s cowboy moralism—put moderates at the forefront.

It was every bit as boring as it sounds.

For intellectual blogs, the year started with bangs and ended with whimpers. Many bloggers embraced the models set forth by the political moderates, and worked to create a more inclusive blogosphere that could speak to disillusioned, uncertain conservatives or, on the other side of the fence, pragmatically-minded liberals. In the spring and early summer, there were intense debates about—among other things—feminist issues (Full Frontal Feminism), the efficacy and significance of the American Christian right, and theoretical problems (Andrew Scull’s take on Michel Foucault). However, as the year wore on, the blogosphere seemed to simply fall to pieces. There was less collaborative work, and less antagonism. The effort involved was simply too great, so opposed blogs began ignoring each other or reconciling on the cheap. A genteel solipsism emerged as the norm among intellectual bloggers: “I know not what others may do, but here is my project, for you to interpret as you will.” In the deepening twilight that has followed the passing of Jacques Derrida and Richard Rorty, what passed for public intellectual discourse became either irrelevant (Stanley Fish in the New York Times) or strained to the point of hysteria (Slavoj Zizek) whenever it didn’t emulate the new centrism.

I hope, in the year to come, that intellectual bloggers will once more be willing to engage passionately with their commenters, instead of looking on in rueful condescension. I hope that more conversations spanning numerous blogs will arise, even if they take the form of blog wars. In any case, it’s December 24th and time for the best and worst of the intellectual blogosphere 2007.

PART ONE: THE BEST

New blogs. Of course, every year a new crop of bloggers arrives, and they invariably have a lot of energy to devote to the uncertain work of posting entries and writing comments. They’ll take on any subject, inhabit any metaphor, consider any claim on its own merits and immanent grounds. In part because of wonderful conversations taking place via N. Pepperell’s Rough Theory, 2007 was the year of Now-Times, Perverse Egalitarianism, and Wildly Parenthetical. At least one of these blogs began earlier, I seem to recall, but nonetheless this was their debut, as far as we here at the Grammy Awards are concerned.

The power of the image. This was the year when intellectual bloggers (with the exception of me) figured out that HTML is a medium that loves graphics and graphic design. N. Pepperell, having already given Rough Theory a terrific makeover, punctuated a return to considering Hegel with marvelous and evocative stills from The Wizard of Oz. Who can ever forget Antigram’s grainy, witty picture of the dominatrix, which he posted right above an attack on Zizek (and Zizek’s supporters) entitled “We Want Discipline”? (Both sides in the debate over Slavoj Zizek came up with astonishing pictures of the man: in the course of a single day, he can look like an inspired prophet and a debauched vampire.) Over at Acephalous, Scott Kaufman made a group of political blogger malcontents continue to discuss Swift Boat under the imposing aegis of Hello Kitty. Of course, speaking of Full Frontal Feminism, petitpoussin gave one side of the debate its rallying flag by taking a single trenchant and satiric photo.

One world, one blogosphere. The old distinctions between the different blog specializations are breaking down. Bloggers have become incredibly aware of the demands and desires of their audiences—more on this later—and one result was a trend towards posts about culture and even gossip on political and professional blogs. Meanwhile, particularly given the consistently lackluster response to posts about books, most intellectual bloggers turned towards politics and professional matters with increasing frequency. Celebrity gossip and reality television became matters of concern for highbrow writers. Political bloggers showed up on humanities blogs to defend their methods and ideas. Political activism, avant-garde poetics, geeky obsessions, and serious scholarly research—all that and more slowly fused together, thanks partly to mega-sites like Salon, BoingBoing, and Alternet, and partly to local friendships between bloggers of different stripes. This year, Timothy Burke coined the term “Everything Studies,” and the phrase clicked everywhere with bloggers. (Correction: it was our own John Holbo!) In short, the old divisions that used to produce segregated readerships no longer applied, and everyone benefited from the change.

PART TWO : THE WORST

Reputation capital and the rise of the cynical blogger. It is inevitable that blogs will become a well-known, legitimate part of public discourse and self-fashioning; as a result, the romantic model of earnest avowals will go into decline. However, it is my hope that blogging will not become merely another avenue for self-promotion. The reasonable tone of so many bloggers just rang hollow this year: eager to appear intelligent and important, they wrote with the imperturable and phony goodwill of people giving interviews on television. Seminars and posts showed up everywhere on the subject of creating a dignified and impressive online persona: you can get famous by blogging. You can advance your career. You can eventually secure some kind of publication or book deal. The whole thing was more sickening than a conversation with a timeshare salesman.

Too much credit for sarcastic contempt. For example, those funny, funny authors who saw it as their mission to write thoughtless, hypocritical “parodies” of other bloggers, in the hopes of immediately earning vast quantities of readers without having to do the hard work of articulating viewpoints. It is terrific to be funny, and there is always occasion for satire, but it was just sad watching reasonable bloggers try to seem hip by linking to and celebrating their mockers. Just as these blogs got too much credit for a continual recourse to sarcasm, too many commenters got stuck doing the verbal equivalent of very slow, loud clapping. The blogosphere cannot survive on dismissals and exasperated gestures.

Fixed ideas. Yes, we are all in favor of long-form projects, but the number of posts that had five, or eight, or twenty sequels this year exceeded all reasonable limits. It didn’t matter the content of blog—everybody was bitten by the continuity bug, myself included, and the overhead was a disaster. Blame television for producing longer attention spans: when you tuned into a blog you hadn’t read in a while, it was like suddenly finding yourself with Season 6, Disc 3 of The Sopranos. Every time you return to something it should show you a new facet: whether that is something new in you, or new in it, is always hard to say, but each piece must be its own revolution.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2008

So, what’s ahead for 2008? I can’t predict trends, but I can say what I hope for, and that’s a renaissance of words in their essential loneliness. Intellectual blogging is a medium that thrives because it captures the quietude of those moments when we seal ourselves off from our surroundings in order to consider the printed words of another person. The tremulousness of the word, the expectation of an answer, the abjection and shamelessness of writing for self-publication: in order to be honest, a blogger has to be vulnerable, more so even than the author of a book. What she is writing apparently had to be blogged to be written at all. Given the voluntarism of the blogosphere, polish is merely comic; risk is the only thing worth admiring. The risk of saying too much, the risk of being unread, the risk of being misread—intellectual blogging must change from an indifferent exercise of dignified exposition into the willing practice of risk.


Comments

I wouldn’t expect the phony good will and bland centrism to go anywhere any time soon.  By and large it does work.

Blogging makes responding immediately to posts much easier and while that can be a good thing, it also makes it easy for people to shout down unpopular opinions.

In the rarefied atmosphere of higher-brow blogging this isn’t an issue because you write for other people that write like you so there’s an accepted level of discourse.  Unfortunately the “everything studies” phenomenon means that once you shift from talking about philosophy to more mundane matters, you drift out of your sphere of discourse and into areas where certain kinds of ideas are most definitely not welcome and, as you correctly point out, there are always page views to be had in linking to someone you disagree with and laughing.

The blogosphere has a real and tangible dark side and it’s arguably why I don’t blog anymore.

By Jonathan M on 12/25/07 at 07:40 AM | Permanent link to this comment

It is with some reluctance that I point out that I actually coined ‘everything studies’, in the following sentence in the post linked by Burke in his post: “But Department of Everything Studies isn’t a realistic goal.”

By John Holbo on 12/25/07 at 08:21 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The description of the tone of blogging is good, but I think that more is going on to cause it than political discourse.  Insofar as most intellectuals of this kind are academics, their production is affected by the academic life cycle.  The first five or six academic group blogs that I checked on started between 2003 and 2005.  That’s time enough for academic blogging’s early adopters—i.e. grad students—to be worn down by the idea of how many years they are devoting into being more concerned with their online image.  The new grad students who start blogging find a circle already established and appear to be more concerned, in general, with finding a place within it than in attacking it; it is still too new for that.

At any rate, I don’t think that these combined factors have been good for the intellectual group blogs.  Sure, there were once flame wars, and the exceptionally sensitive people dropped out as a result, but now that there aren’t, there hasn’t been a return to people posting about their work.  Instead its the pop culture piece or the political piece, which I suppose represent what academics would like to be good at rather than what they really are good at.

By on 12/25/07 at 02:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

which I suppose represent what academics would like to be good at rather than what they really are good at.

as a new (intellectual) blogger, i think that the very experience of doing a kind of collaborative “everything blog” is what i enjoy the most, i.e. it is an ability to share my thoughts on subjects that i personally enjoy and see others share their observations about pop culture or politics or music, and the idea that someone out there reads our humble notes is a sort of a nice bonus. i think that i personally would like to start posting about my work eventually but it would kill the spirit, i think, if i felt that it is necessary. and in a way i do agree with you on “would like to be good at” vs. “really are good at” - having been writing about certain topics in philosophy for years, i would like to try my hand at something like a short story or an opera review, and if it looks and reads as an amateur mediocrity, then i’ll probably stop… in any case, on behalf of PE i accept the title of a new intellectual blog - happy holidays, everyone!

By Mikhail Emelianov on 12/25/07 at 03:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Given the ratio of Joseph’s sample size to the target population, a better analogy than the Grammy might be the Foreign Film Oscar.

For me, 2007 stands out as the year I gave up any hope of comprehensive coverage. The quantity of excellent blog publishing far outstrips available reading time, and comically dwarfs my weekly trawl through more formal academic and more-or-less-literary journals. Try to keep up with more than one Limited Inc. and the sheer productivity of pre-twentieth-century writers no longer seems so bizarrely superhuman. The only blogging community I saw constrict as a whole were the poets; otherwise, there were just the usual drying-ups of individual branches in individual clumps.

Indeed, I saw growing anticipation of short lifespans, or at least lessened upset at closing time. Two of my favorite contemporary artists—Eddie Campbell and M. John Harrison—recently announced cooling off points after a year of blogging, and both announcements were free of angst. It’s become a form that can be tried for a time, like experimenting on a travel book or a murder mystery. (Having long ago asserted an implicit right to hiatuses, I consider this a healthy sign.)

As for the special case of “the group blogs”, Crooked Timber seems in better shape than last year. Long Sunday was always a naturally centrifugal group and now exhibits the natural consequences. With or without flames the Valve has from day one hosted fewer posts about literary topics than would be found by simply aggregating the contributors’ individual sites. Thus the problem (should one consider this a problem) is clearly not the blogging form but some filter put in place when deciding whether or not to publish a post in the group. And since Adam Roberts and Joseph Kugelmass are both exceptions to this self-censoring and the newest members of the Valve, I can’t say the problem’s gotten worse since my stint.

By Ray Davis on 12/25/07 at 05:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Um.  Having trouble reading the tone of Ray’s last sentence ...

By Adam Roberts on 12/26/07 at 12:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry about the tower of negatives. More straightforwardly I meant that you and Joseph made the site better than it was. As I’ve mentioned before, our couple of antler-locking incidents didn’t turn me into some antirobertsian fanatic. I just don’t get where you’re like coming from man sometimes.

Speaking of muddle, please, kindly readers, replace the start of my parenthetical sentence by “Having long asserted a right to unannounced hiatuses....”

By Ray Davis on 12/26/07 at 01:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Hmm, not to be uncivil, but I see a contradiction between the blogger’s role of permanent provocateur endorsed here and the self-control and concern for audience that would choke off a tiresome thread.  After all, the provocateurs are presumably reading and responding to one another.  How should these roles of blogger as writer/blogger as reader be reconciled?

Solipsism is not just for romantic self-absorbed scholarly types, but for groups, too.  I guess the key is what’s at risk in these kinds of discussions, if the provocateur and audience are already fully known to one another.

So, yes, civility is important, and inclusivity is not necessarily about professionalized centrism or moderation. 

The voluntarism of the blogosphere is one of its self-regulating mechanisms, along with whatever tacit norms of civility prevail at individual blogs.  People will not want to play if they come to a cyber-forum and get pissed on. 

And I think one of the strengths of the blogosphere is its embrace of the quotidian over the revolutionary in the lives of intellectuals, because of the routinely overhyped language of innovation that exists in “official” (i.e., printed) scholarship. 

Best,

DM

By David Mazella on 12/26/07 at 02:07 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ah. OK. Thanks.  Glad to hear you’re no fundamentalist antirobertsian.  Likewise, I’ve never felt that it’s a shame about Ray.

As to where I’m coming from: I’m afraid that information has been self-censored.

By Adam Roberts on 12/26/07 at 02:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, that’s hilarious. I’ve corrected both postings.

Rich, you make some good points here. (Also, at my blog, Rich commented that he didn’t find the use of imagery particularly new for bloggers, and I agree. I just thought some of people I read, as well as a number of other Valve writers, mixed media very well in 07.)

It’s true that the changes in people’s lives, predictably tied to advancement benchmarks, will affect whether and how much they blog. For my part, where blogging is concerned, I would rather see observations, commentaries and debates than actual postings of work. The closer a blog post gets to an actual journal article, rather than something like an op-ed or magazine article, the more likely it is that real journal articles will be superior, and that the blog readership will either ignore the piece or respond in unconstructive ways. (Of course, in practice, professional pieces work fine as an occasional change of pace.)

Ray,

Long Sunday is starting to resemble that reactor core in Spider-Man 2.

My sample size is limited, so I’ll go check out Limited Inc. I personally would be delighted if you added any other Dickens-like mass producers of quality in a comment to this thread.

Your comment reminds me that from time-to-time I’ve thought it would be great if more people ran blogs and splinter blogs like miniseries. There’s no reason why you couldn’t occasionally create an ad hoc blog, with a planned life of five, ten, or twenty posts, that would end when its subject matter was exhausted and would become a permanently useful archive.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 12/26/07 at 03:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Dave,

You are absolutely right that we should value inclusiveness, and try to avoid becoming solipsistic or insular.

I’m all in favor of civility, and of course I have no problem with political moderates articulating their views. I’m talking about a different issue: exaggerated civility at the expense of real dialogue. For example, in the thread I recently linked about a book called Yes Means Yes, the original poster (named tekanji) severely criticized the way the book’s project and CFP were framed. One of the people working on the book showed up and tried to defuse the thread by thanking tejanji for expressing her views, and daring to hope that she might submit an essay. It was like one of those letters you get back from a senator; there was no serious engagement with the post at all.

Likewise, there have been too many instances this year—Patterico at Acephalous, for example—of bloggers congratulating themselves on their ability to converse with political opponents. As with Yes Means Yes, it gives one the uncomfortable feeling that personal advancement (in terms of readership, reputation, and the ability to cash in on the blog) is the real goal.

As for the difference between writing posts and reading/commenting on them, I think of it as the difference between hosting and visiting. When I comment on another person’s blog, I am a houseguest, and try to behave like one. That is why, for example, leaving a flatly contemptuous comment is out of the question for me.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 12/26/07 at 03:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

While I’m certainly not for criticism being blunted out of career concerns, given the realities of the academic job market it is very difficult to begrudge people using any means necessary to advance themselves and get a fair shake in this system.  Perhaps others are people of independent means who doesn’t have to worry about such things?  One of the more amazing things about blogging is that it allows for a far more direct relationship between writers and readers, circumventing a lot of the privileged networks of relationships that characterize the editorial boards of journals, conference review boards, and even hiring networks.  This new medium, of course, is fraught with its own perils, but at the very least it allows for a more democratic process by which certain themes and issues get discussed and explored, rather than these conceptual universes being thoroughly overdetermined by a narrow enclave of beknighted academics.

As for other matters, I suspect that one of the things learned in the last couple of years is that certain discussions just aren’t worth entering into due to the time and emotion they involve, and their failure to get anywhere.  While some might be people of leisure who have all the time in the world to engage in futile discussions, others, because of life’s constraints, must choose discussions carefully, where there might be a real possibility of something developing and where there’s even the possibility of a discussion getting off the ground in the first place.  There are some assemblages that just sputter and spiral out of control, becoming a vortex for thought or a black hole.  This was certainly something I learned from the religion discussions on my blog.  Ultimately it became clear that very different universes of discourse were at work and that while a discussion appeared to be taking place it was not.  I find it better to work with discussion spaces like those I find with Nate or Lars or N.Pepperell, where despite vast differences in conceptual backgrounds and often conflicting views, there’s at least vaguely shared problematics where things resonate in interesting ways with one another.

As for the role the satirists have been recently playing, I’m led to think of Aristophanes.  I suspect that thought always requires its Fools and that these satirists play that role well.  It strikes me as rather ungenerous to suggest that those who acknowledge these fools are just “trying to be hip”.

By Sinthome on 12/26/07 at 06:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Joseph: “For my part, where blogging is concerned, I would rather see observations, commentaries and debates than actual postings of work. The closer a blog post gets to an actual journal article, rather than something like an op-ed or magazine article, the more likely it is that real journal articles will be superior, and that the blog readership will either ignore the piece or respond in unconstructive ways.”

If blog postings were actual journal articles, I wouldn’t/couldn’t read them.  (Actually, I have read essays that John Holbo intended for publication.  But he’s an unusually chatty and explicable sort of writer.) But posting about work is different than posting actual work.  It seems to me that, having studied some topic deeply, one might be expected to be able to write more interestingly about it than about an item of pop culture one happened to encounter (unless one studies pop culture) or about some political issue.  Not that there’s anything wrong with being interested in politics, but if you’re more interested in politics than in your work, it just seems like at some point you should work in politics—at least, that’s what I did.

Which, actually, is one thing that I like about Harold Bloom, even if I don’t like certain of his tropes.  He unhesitatingly proclaims what he works on to be the best ever, to naturally be what everyone should be most interested in.  As long as this type of attitude is not conjoined with any sort of enforcement power, it can sometimes be refreshing.

“I’m all in favor of civility [...]”

I’m not.  “Civility” as a generalized concept covers a host of sins.  Of course, some people are naturally civil, but they never mention civility to anyone as a virtue to be striven for or enforced.

Of course people should avoid violence or deception, but those don’t really come into it when you’re talking about a comment box.  What you’re talking about are people who write in styles that you don’t want.  People who run blogs should, in my opinion, feel free to ban or censor out anything that doesn’t match the kind of space that they want to have, but that’s a pragmatic or esthetic decision, and the people who talk about “civility” want to turn it into a moral one.

By on 12/26/07 at 08:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

One of the more amazing things about blogging is that it allows for a far more direct relationship between writers and readers, circumventing a lot of the privileged networks of relationships that characterize the editorial boards of journals, conference review boards, and even hiring networks.

Blogging makes this kind of dialogue possible; it also makes Technorati and Technorati ratings possible, and can be used to reinforce hierarchies. In general, if the criteria are what you say—looking for good discussions rather than useless ones, and then participating actively in threads—the results are excellent. But wherever the desire for “reputation capital” exceeds the desire for expression and understanding, a kind of discourse ensues that sells intellectual blogs short.

In a sense, the difference between the position you’re advocating here, and the one I’m deploring, is the difference between Aristotle’s Rhetoric, which had an ethical framework, and rhetorical practice in the absence of an orientation towards the good.

We are all familiar with the phenomenon of people starting or participating in blog wars in order to boost their readerships. My point is that it can work the other way as well, with blunted or digressive responses intended to create the illusion of constructive dialogue. An example is Ann Althouse, who loves to portray herself as more interested in intelligence than in the particular political allegiances of her interlocutors, when in fact she hates serious opposition and heaps scorn on it.

As for the role the satirists have been recently playing, I’m led to think of Aristophanes.  I suspect that thought always requires its Fools and that these satirists play that role well.  It strikes me as rather ungenerous to suggest that those who acknowledge these fools are just “trying to be hip”.

I’m only led to think of Aristophanes when the level of the writing approaches that of his plays. In the case of Parody Center (not the only example, but a salient one), the writers in question are incoherent, obscene, and nasty, and casual readers of blogs find them incredibly confusing. Thought does not need them; it needs comedy which, precisely because of its antagonisms, attains to thought.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 12/26/07 at 08:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I think the issue of civility is a lasting problem as a lot of the time it is an issue that emerges when someone is being a gadfly and attempting to stir the pot.

Netiquette, by and large, has a problem with this kind of behaviour.  Asking awkward questions in the hope of getting people to question their basic assumptions is deemed, in some circles as “trolling”, certainly if one is not an obvious part of the community whose pot one is attempting to stir.

The institutions of academia does away with this problem up to a point because academic qualifications are, to a greater or lesser degree, all about earning one’s position in a certain community.

The immediacy of blogging means that it’s not always obvious who is stirring the pot and who is merely a troll.

By Jonathan M on 12/26/07 at 09:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It would have never occurred to me to think of Ann Althouse as an intellectual blogger, though I guess she can loosely be said to be an academic.  She seems to fall more into the Dailykos or Michel Malkin category in my mind.  People really participate in blog wars to increase their readership?  My blog and the blogs I read have such modest readerships that it never occurs to me to think of things like Technorati.  When you spoke of people advancing their careers, the first people that came to mind were people like K-Punk who now speaks all over the world as a result of his blog, Jodi Dean who gets invites all over the place to talk, in part because of her blog and in part because of her publications, or even far more modestly myself.  K-Punk and Jodi Dean do not strike me as people who have moderated their language or cleaned themselves up as a result of this recognition.  Indeed, Jodi has been through law suits and brought a lot of grief on herself at her University as a result of her blogging.  I can see how something like what you’re describing might be occurring with someone like Markos Mouselatis, founder of Dailykos, now that he’s become a pundit featured on regular talkshows like Hardball, Bill Maher, and Countdown and now having a regular column in Newsweek; but again that seems to be a different category of blog.

I’m only led to think of Aristophanes when the level of the writing approaches that of his plays. In the case of Parody Center (not the only example, but a salient one), the writers in question are incoherent, obscene, and nasty, and casual readers of blogs find them incredibly confusing. Thought does not need them; it needs comedy which, precisely because of its antagonisms, attains to thought.

Aristophanes and Diogenes could be quite crass.  On the one hand, Lysistrata is peppered with all sorts of vulgarity.  On the other, Diogenes suggested that one fart or belch during highflying speeches from Platonists and talented recognition and masturbated in public to accentuate the materiality of thought (not unlike Artaud).  I suspect some value Parody Center-- even if finding Dejan often tiring --because he occasionally does a very effective job of amusingly lampooning the pretensions of various bloggers such as myself, Jodi Dean, N.Pepperell, Anthony Paul Smith, Adam Kotsko, etc.  This can occasionally reorient certain aspects of discussion.  One of the things I find interesting about the whole Dejan phenomenon is that intellectual discussion has, for so long, been closed up in very sanitized walls of academic journals and conferences.  We just haven’t had to deal with the Diogeneses of the world; in large part because intellectual discourse has not been something that occurs in a public space.  It will be interesting to see how that aspect of blogging plays out.  I personally do not share your view that the aim of blogging ought to be the tremulousness of the word.  For me what is far more valuable is the aleatory space of an encounter, where people from exceedingly different backgrounds-- academics of various disciplines and orientations, artists, activists, environmentalists, business folk, housewives, etc --all have a potential say, collectively carving out a space of questions and problems without necessarily agreeing on a single thing.  Of course, each blog defines its own criteria of what blogging should be; I just don’t believe in the idea of an authentic discourse for very Derridean-Lacanian-Blanchotian reasons about the nature of language and the signifier vis a vis absence and mediation, the death of the author, and all those commonplaces.  Then again, my blog is a philosophy blog, not a lit blog.

By Sinthome on 12/26/07 at 09:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

But posting about work is different than posting actual work.  It seems to me that, having studied some topic deeply, one might be expected to be able to write more interestingly about it than about an item of pop culture one happened to encounter (unless one studies pop culture) or about some political issue.  Not that there’s anything wrong with being interested in politics, but if you’re more interested in politics than in your work, it just seems like at some point you should work in politics—at least, that’s what I did.

Where you end up here is pretty telling—a lot of academics do suffer from envy of politics and political significance. It’s a weird and disappointing evolution for Marxism, but there it is.

As for pop culture; well, as the ongoing conversations about canons here will show, it’s difficult to separate pop culture from the proper objects of criticism. One of the best books I’ve read on Finnegans Wake compares the Wake to Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, and does so effectively. So, of course, why Bergman but not the Coen Bros., etc.

The problem with posting even about your work is the local nature of some of the most urgent questions. I also enjoy reading Bloom, but the fact is that his books of enthusiasm (including The Western Canon and How To Read And Why) are different from his works of scholarship (including The Anxiety of Influence). Inevitably, where he is most interested in stressing the universal relevance and interest of literature, he is least able to dwell on the particulars of each author and work.

When I wrote that I was all in favor of civility, I was assuming a person for whom that is already a personal ideal, rather than one to be imposed on others. Of course, more than style and aesthetics is at stake here; for example, repetitive argumentation is a content problem, but just as troublesome as an incongruous style.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 12/26/07 at 09:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I can see how something like what you’re describing might be occurring with someone like Markos Mouselatis, founder of Dailykos, now that he’s become a pundit featured on regular talkshows like Hardball, Bill Maher, and Countdown and now having a regular column in Newsweek; but again that seems to be a different category of blog.

Right; it’s just that I see so much overlap right now between the different kinds of blogs. To the extent that you want to preserve those separations, in part because it enables more focus on content and less on rhetoric/readership, that makes sense to me.

But, speaking of the Greeks, I remain somewhat Pyrrhonic with respect to these different choices. If distinctions like political blog / lit blog / philosophy blog hold up, there will be far fewer aleatory encounters, because (as Mazella notes) a certain insularity is the inevitable result. A lot of conversations in the public square are incapable of providing the sort of dialogue that pushes a specific project forward, because those dialogues tend to happen between experts. Every time somebody shows up on my blog to complain that literature professors are pretentious babblers—which happens fairly often, and is usually mixed with this or that interesting claim—I have to decide whether or not to respond, and how to respond. Likewise, whenever a conversation is declared unprofitable there are probably very good reasons. But if that happens across a wide swath of the blogs I’m reading, for a number of different discussions, there will be a slight but noticeable chill.

The problem is that Dejan is more like a reference to Diogenes than Diogenes himself—and I say this partly because I’m not ready to deem myself Socrates in order to make the analogy feasible. The username “diogenes” tends to go quickly in any kind of webspace, but that certainly doesn’t mean that his level of nihilistic brilliance is easy to attain. We are talking here about a bad reader of texts who himself is not very good at detecting sarcasm or interpreting irony. Yes, some of the things he writes are worth a laugh out loud, but what I found frustrating about the response to him was that it really asked nothing of him. Would you write this kind of thoughtful, concerned comment to him? Of course not, because he’s a character, a Diogenes. The same goes for various other online characters. And I have a hatred of end-runs.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 12/26/07 at 10:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The problem is that Dejan is more like a reference to Diogenes than Diogenes himself—and I say this partly because I’m not ready to deem myself Socrates in order to make the analogy feasible. The username “diogenes” tends to go quickly in any kind of webspace, but that certainly doesn’t mean that his level of nihilistic brilliance is easy to attain. We are talking here about a bad reader of texts who himself is not very good at detecting sarcasm or interpreting irony. Yes, some of the things he writes are worth a laugh out loud, but what I found frustrating about the response to him was that it really asked nothing of him. Would you write this kind of thoughtful, concerned comment to him? Of course not, because he’s a character, a Diogenes. The same goes for various other online characters. And I have a hatred of end-runs.

I don’t think any suggestion is being made that Socrates and Diogenes are running about.  The Agora, I’m sure, was a messy space with a lot of mediocrity, but out of that mixture some things of lasting value were produced.  I do not think the things of lasting value are produced without such mixtures.  I’m not sure why Dejan ought to be a good reader of texts.  I suspect that’s not what he’s up to in his own writing and engagement and that, in the case of Zizek related posts, at least, his attitude is a bit like a biologists attitude towards Lamarkian biological theories:  There’s no point in the contemporary biologist continuing to argue against the person who continues to adhere to Lamarkianism.  At any rate, these are matters of taste.  I find a number of Dejan’s parodies amusing and on mark, and of value in their ability to occasionally deflate pretentiousness.  The inability to detect sarcasm or interpret irony can itself be a way of practicing sarcasm and irony.

By Sinthome on 12/26/07 at 11:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Can you please not liken a misogynistic, racist, anti-Semite who rarely hits his mark to Diogenes? I always figured Sinthome and Jodi humoured the unfunny Dejan as a way of disarming him. I mean, I don’t know about anyone else, but when he writes about me or Adam I usually just get confused about what he’s talking about. Plus he’s really ruined Patrick’s ability to write coherently or with the same clever mean-spiritedness he used to have. Maybe Sinthome thinks he hits the mark with Adam and I on being Bible-thumpers or something, but that speaks to his own misunderstanding of what we’re about. I mean, really, you find him funny?

By Anthony Paul Smith on 12/26/07 at 11:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I find a number of Dejan’s parodies amusing and on mark, and of value in their ability to occasionally deflate pretentiousness.

How can pretentious nonsense deflate pretentiousness?  I’m with Anthony on this one.  There’s a reason why the targets of their “satire” don’t recognize themselves in it—their posts make no sense.  It’s satire-by-immense-collage.  They throw fifty bricks of shit against the wall knowing one of them will smear something sorta-kinda-maybe-but-not-really tangential to their intended victim’s point.

By SEK on 12/27/07 at 01:04 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Either Kugelmass sincerely finds Dejan funny, in which case he’s blown all credibility, or else he doesn’t and is just being nice, meaning that the first paragraph of this post is hypocritical.

By Adam Kotsko on 12/27/07 at 01:52 AM | Permanent link to this comment

not absolutely related to the topic, but this image of shit being thrown against the wall (and some of it sticking) - where does that come from? folklore? american idiom? i had a prof in grad school who used it a lot - scott’s variation has “bricks of shit” and “smearing” but it is the same expression, isn’t it?

By Mikhail Emelianov on 12/27/07 at 02:20 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Can you please not liken a misogynistic, racist, anti-Semite who rarely hits his mark to Diogenes?

Apart from his occasional rants on my blog about Zizek, I’ve only ever read a handful of his posts over at Cultural Parody Center (predictably the ones where I’m satirized).  I’ve never come across things that fit your description here… He’s really misogynistic, racist and anti-Semitic?

I always figured Sinthome and Jodi humoured the unfunny Dejan as a way of disarming him. I mean, I don’t know about anyone else, but when he writes about me or Adam I usually just get confused about what he’s talking about. Plus he’s really ruined Patrick’s ability to write coherently or with the same clever mean-spiritedness he used to have. Maybe Sinthome thinks he hits the mark with Adam and I on being Bible-thumpers or something, but that speaks to his own misunderstanding of what we’re about. I mean, really, you find him funny?

I found portions of the Slovenly Alien posts funny… Especially all the talk of Dr. Zizek “destituting” someone or other.  “Did he destitute you often?” I can’t recall anything he’s written about you or Adam, though I think it’s pretty clearly established that the two of you aren’t Bible thumpers.  His tirades about Zizek on various blogs get pretty tiresome-- I suspect Antigram sadly disappeared, in part, because of these on his own blog.  My strategy has been to ignore him when he does this on my own blog or not to post his remarks (he’s the reason I shifted to moderated comments).

By Sinthome on 12/27/07 at 05:43 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The intended meaning of “intellectual” here seems to be, what, literary criticism, philosophy, cultural studies (whatever that might be), politics...these are all fascinating, I’m sure, but it seems a little narrow and self-important to talk about only such topics and consider yourself to be talking about “the best and worst of the intellectual blogs”.

By on 12/27/07 at 12:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

At what point do we get embarrassed that the most lively conversation at The Valve in a long time concerns blog ethics and people who comment around these parts.  Is this Caliban’s glee at seeing himself reflected in the mirror?  Can somebody write about a book or something?

By on 12/27/07 at 12:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Adam,

SEK’s metaphor is very apt. I find Dejan funny once in a while, which is like saying (in the name of honesty) that I laughed once during Caddyshack 2. Monkeys with typewriters, mon ami, monkeys with typewriters.

Mikhail,

It comes from empirical experiments performed during Einstein’s scatological phase.

***

The guy known affectionately as “9999999999999@msn.com”—can I recommend a blog called Parody Center? You two would be so perfect for each other.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 12/27/07 at 02:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I can’t recall anything he’s written about you or Adam, though I think it’s pretty clearly established that the two of you aren’t Bible thumpers.

Sinthome, I agree that the use of destitution as a sexual verb was funny, but this is where the clothes stop fitting the man. The thing about Aristophanes is that he was insightful. He understood Socrates well enough to mock him. So if Dejan calls Adam and Anthony Bible thumpers, and they’re not, he’s not being effectively satiric through exaggeration—he’s just being wrong. That’s why a satirist has to be a good reader, as opposed to someone who literally could not tell the difference between me and one of my commenters. Also, I would like to add “sexist” to Anthony’s list.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 12/27/07 at 02:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ken C., I assume that Kugelmass is referring to what most people call “academic blogs,” but using the term “intellectual” to try to be less elitist or institutionalist or something.

Luther, After about a year of the phenomenon you describe, I see no reason why the Valvians would suddenly become embarrassed about it.

By Adam Kotsko on 12/27/07 at 02:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ken,

I don’t think I’m using the term in any narrow fashion, though I certainly don’t mean to exclude blogs like 3 Quarks Daily. In any case, my original discussion of the term (which is, in fact, meant as an alternative to “academic blog") is here.

Luther,

That’s the way the ball bounces. If people haven’t read the book in question, they usually don’t read the post. Last year, during the holidays, I wrote about Thomas Pynchon—several books, actually—and got some wonderful responses, but not very many.

Adam,

We call our peculiar mix of literary erudition and philosophical wizardry “Valveeta.”

By Joseph Kugelmass on 12/27/07 at 03:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

(Please note: the following comment has been edited for obscenity. I recommend that Parody Center re-post to his blog in the name of free speech.)

Dear readers,

The Parody Center started off as an effort to disseminate the Truth about the slovenlian ***** of ill repute, dr. Slovenly Zizek, [who you all still adore] despite almost one year of incessant parodic activity. This would be the empirical parameter to indicate that the parody was well-targeted: your minds are really THAT free, independent and original.

In over a year I have not received a single request from any of you to find out more about my claims, about the history of Serbia, about the political background of my story. You just kept following the slovenlian Overlord like the good tranny bottom slaves that you really are.

The reason that this is excruciatingly FUNNY is that most of you think of yourselves as Leftists and Marxists, yet you don’t even have a basic grasp of Yugoslav history, let alone the sociopolitical processes that created the Zizek phenomenon. Then you wonder how and why it’s possible that neoliberalism fooled you, and you wrote long-winded soliloquies on the subject, too.

At the Parody Center we believe it is for the sake of SOCIALISM indeed that we must shake you out of your solipsism in this regard.

Over time the business grew into a kind of an Unconscious of the Western continental philosophy blawgosphere; despite your efforts to deny it, you have all enjoyed these [...] examinations, and now that it has finally led to some kind of self-reflection, we are really pleased with the results of our parodic efforts.

With compliments from the Parody Center

By Parody Center on 12/27/07 at 03:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I always thought that “academic” was less elitist than “intellectual”, but that’s a UK perspective where “intellectual” implies “Adrian Mole” but “academic” and “expert” are good middle class professions :-)

You’re right Ken, the definition is narrow.  It’s essentially litcrit with a few postmodern bits and bobs.  Analytical philosophy has yet to get a mention.

By Jonathan M on 12/27/07 at 04:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jonathan,

I want to highlight your earlier comments, which were excellent and might have gotten lost in the shuffle of comments about Diogenes et al. The question of what kinds of writing a site will tolerate, and what defines a troll, are both problems I’ve wrestled with before. In general, I agree with Rich that the criteria are aesthetic. Rather than trying to imagine the person behind the comment, which is usually impossible, I try to ascertain whether the comment will make a contribution to the final text, which combines the post and thread.

It’s just not true that “intellectual” refers to blogs that do literary criticism. Actually, most of the blog posts I read daily concern politics, popular culture, and philosophy; only a handful, like Spurious and This Space, have the courage to hold fast to literature.

One of my favorite intra-Valve conversations this year, which was about the nature of signification and criteria for meaning, began with John Holbo’s post on, among other things, John Searle. I personally side with Continental philosophy and Rorty, but analytic philosophy is very much part of what makes the Valve tick.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 12/27/07 at 04:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

From A Life of Diogenes, by P. Center:

When asked why he farted during the speeches of the Platonists, Diogenes replied that he was just very sad that nobody had asked him about the background of his story, and nobody had asked him to give his account of Grecian history. “No one has asked for more information about my claims,” he said sadly, prior to flatulation.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 12/27/07 at 05:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ahh, topped with a provocative sause of Valveeta and half-and-half, smothered with campbell’s tomato soup…

Jonathan, are you saying “intellectual” = “litcrit with a few postmodern bits and bobs”? and “analyical philosophy” is ignored as an “intellectual” pursuit?

“elitist” is wrong, right?

By Mikhail Emelianov on 12/27/07 at 05:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"I don’t think I’m using the term in any narrow fashion, though I certainly don’t mean to exclude blogs like 3 Quarks Daily. In any case, my original discussion of the term”

Well, I’ve always thought the blogs of Terence Tao, Cosmi Shalizi, Suresh Venkatasubramanian, John Langford, Scott Aaronson, and the folks at The Oil Drum were interesting and intellectual.

By on 12/27/07 at 06:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Joseph, Mikhail;

Apologies.  I expressed myself unclearly.  While I think the term “intellectual” is one more closely associated with continental european scholarship than anglo-saxon scholarship, I merely meant that in the context of the original post, the term “intellectual blogging” had a rather narrow definition.  The term “intellectual” itself is somewhat looser.

Searle’s an interesting case as he deals with a lot of issues that are interesting to continental philosophers such as the construction of social reality (he even gave the name to a book I seem to remember).  So he has some cross-over appeal but is not a good example of inter-traditional pluralism :-)

By Jonathan M on 12/27/07 at 08:08 PM | Permanent link to this comment

To remember Diogenes simply for his expressions of disdain is misleading, because these outbursts came from his impatience with the low, conventional lives and values espoused by others, especially other philosophers.  See Bk VI, Diogenes Laertius, Lives:

[Diogenes] was very violent in expressing his haughty disdain of others. He said that the scholê (school) of Euclides was cholê (gall). And he used to call Plato’s diatribê (discussions) katatribê (disguise). It was also a saying of his that the Dionysian games were a great marvel to fools; and that the demagogues were the ministers of the multitude. He used likewise to say, “that when in the course of his life he beheld pilots, and physicians, and philosophers, he thought man the wisest of all animals; but when again he beheld interpreters of dreams, and soothsayers, and those who listened to them, and men puffed up with glory or riches, then he thought that there was not a more foolish animal than man.”

DM

By David Mazella on 12/27/07 at 09:50 PM | Permanent link to this comment

´´I think it’s pretty clearly established that the two of you aren’t Bible thumpers.´´

Dr. Sinthome, you just earned yourself another nomination - best Parody Line of the Year.

Anthonia, even if we disregard your sympathies for dr. Zizek´s Law and the Father, as well as your association with Hegellian Bible Thumping and dekline of simbolik efikasy entities in the blawgosphere, fact remains,

you LOOK like a Jehova´s witness!

Dr. Kugelmessalina, the ´´destitution´´ that made you laugh in the Slovenly Alien derives from a very long and old tradition in Serbian political satire, where obscenity is a natural tool against both pretension and politically correct Communist discourse. Dr. Zizek’s famous shenanigans also draw on this tradition, although he never mentions his Serbian inspiration because he is an anti-Serbian racist.

There is plentiful material on this at the Parody Center.

By Parody Center on 12/28/07 at 12:48 AM | Permanent link to this comment

So let’s see what I’m supposed to be finding funny or what is supposed to be making me examine myself in your parody of me.

You turn my name into a lady’s name because I’m supposed to be some kind of bottom which is apparently bad. Right.

Then you say I’ve got sympathies with Zizek. Umm… right. I suppose I do write an awful lot on Zizek. At least 10 words in the last year.

Then I just get confused. Hegelian bible thumping? Not sure what you’re on about here. The decline of symbolic efficacy? Hmmm… not even familiar with any writing on that, though I assume the point is pretty intuitive. But wait a minute - it is an entity? You must mean that people I don’t talk to often or leave comments for write about this stuff. Well, I must agree with them if I don’t spend all my time explaining to them the greatness that could have been Greater Serbia… I mean a Serb dominated… err… “guided” Yugoslavia. Or how Muslims are bad because, like, they are. And, oh my God! Fart! I do hope we get another example of your lack in artistic talent soon. That whole European 60’s under drawn psychedelic thing is so interesting to see. And the vulgarity of it doesn’t seem forced at all. Perhaps you could draw me as a Jehovah’s witness, whom, you tell me, I resemble. Oh, how clever. Because that totally makes sense. Jehovah’s, my god, they all look the same. And I do wear a lot of black. Wait, I actually wear a lot of brown. Too much brown really, but it’s a good autumnal color.

I’m pretty sure I have a Bible that I should be thumping so, let’s see here, ‘“Why is my lord weeping?” asked Hazael. “Because I know the harm you will do to the Israelites,” he answered. “You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women.”’ Take that. It wrote it out from memory. Now, please, run along to Patrick, or whatever he is calling himself these days, and trade failed schizophrenic ramblings about black people, queens, fat women, Chabert, and your dislike of the Jewish people, all the while adjusting your position depending on whether or not he approves of what you’ve said.

By Anthony Paul Smith on 12/28/07 at 01:30 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Anthonia,

I never said that being a bottom is bad. If you feel like that, though, me and Jonquille can help you get back in touch with your bottom.

The essence of ANY Bible Thumping, including the academic variety, is the Law and the Father, and the resulting decline of our collective moral values. You can put as many piercings in your nose as you wish and even be a bi-curious theologist, for me anyone who hangs out with dr. Adamina Kotsko is a Bible Thumper.

Really I repeated at least a hundred times that the so-called ‘’Greater Serbian’’ federation (the old Yugoslavia) was the only hope for socialism to survive in Yugoslavia, and that dr. Zizek was one of the primary ideologues of its destruction - perversely, in the name of socialism. That you find this information insignificant only shows me to what extent you’re an ideologue behind your Open Society facade.

By Parody Center on 12/28/07 at 02:08 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Dejan,

You don’t think all your juvenile joshing and pathetic nicknaming get in the way of your argument?  If you have a point to make, make it. 

With words.

And arguments.

Since your parodies routinely fail on their face—unrecognizable to their targets—why not try to articulate what it is you’re actually offended by?  Why not, you know, engage in an honest debate about whatever it is you actually believe in?  Because to be frank, I learned more about your position in your edited/dismissive comment than I have in two years of muddling through the self-congratulatory society you call a blog. 

Maybe the joke(s) is/are just lost on me, but Christ, shouldn’t they maybe be funny even if dolts like me can’t fathom their depths?

[Also, as I edit this, I find it odd that I need my own approval to publish this.  I mean, I trust myself, I think ... even if I’d rather McCann vet/compose everything I write.]

By SEK on 12/28/07 at 02:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Still have no fucking clue what you’re on about with the bible thumping or Adam. Maybe you should check with Patrick on how to proceed here.

Open Society facade? Yeah, I looked into the whole Greater Serbia/Zizek ruined Dejan’s perfect socialist life thing and I don’t buy it. This may come as a surprise to you but one can disagree with imperialism (NATO-US) and nationalism (Serbian notions of non-internationalist socialism). Zizek’s got lots of problems (his latest writings on ecology are just annoying and that 300 article was deeply troubling) but I don’t buy that this is one regardless of how many times you claim I’m a bottom (though now you’re taking up the Seinfeld line, ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that.’).

By Anthony Paul Smith on 12/28/07 at 02:51 AM | Permanent link to this comment

even if dolts like me can’t fathom their depths?

(Jonquille told me that you’re a dominant top...)

My theoretical beef is mainly with the theory of the dekline of simbolik efikasy as expounded by dr. Zizek, deriving from Hegel, misinterpreting Lacan and generalizing notions of psychoanalysis to the political arena without legitimation. I think this is a moralistic ploy, inspired by a bad sort of evangelical Christianity, which promotes or works in alignment with European suprematism. I think this theory is behind the resurgence of Christian fundamentalism as well. I am much more in favor of thinkers like Spinoza and Deleuze, who envisaged a neutral God, one of positivity and presence. This is also in line with my own religion, Christian Orthodoxy (by this I mean of the Russian-Greek-Serbian church).

I find it quite shocking and disturbing how the continental philosophy school in the West worships Zizek without knowing anything of the social-historical context from whence he came - for example, his ideological and political participation in the Slovene secession, which started the 15-year long civil war in Yugoslavia with devastating consequences for millions. I am even more perplexed that he is considered a ‘’Leninist’’ and a ‘’socialist’’ with such a malevolent c.v. to his name.

For me this is an indication of cultural narcissism and stupidity in the Western academia, and I think that should be exposed, unmasked, defused, debunked, destroyed before it turns into full-on fascism, if it already hasn’t.

By Parody Center on 12/28/07 at 02:54 AM | Permanent link to this comment

While I can see the point to discussion about blogging and even about Slavoj Zizek, further comments about the former Yugoslavia and the Yugoslavian civil war will be moderated out. Parody Center, you’ve already displayed your opinions and dogmatism enough. We know where you stand.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 12/28/07 at 03:14 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Wait a second.  Cryptic comments… Random misspellings… Inventing “parodic” names for Valve bloggers…

Does this remind anyone of anything?

By tomemos on 12/28/07 at 03:15 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Dr. Kugelmessalina, Acephalous requested an explanation, so I gave it to him. Indeed there is ample material on Yugoslavia at the Parody Center for whoever wants to read.

But to honor your request, I recently saw I AM LEGEND which reinterprets the original Richard Matheson novel in the dekline of simbolik efikasy key - supposedly the world ended and people became vampires because we ditched God. In the novel, the end of the old world signaled the Becoming of another.

I think America is now in the grasp of Crusader-type ‘’imperial Christianity’’ which relies on the work of people like Zizek for its impact. This was already evident in Zizek’s interpretation of 300.

By Parody Center on 12/28/07 at 03:21 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I did notice The Parallax View in the local Christian bookstore.

By Anthony Paul Smith on 12/28/07 at 03:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Dr Kugelmassina, the lesson I learned from Yugoslavia is that it fell primarily and chiefly because the Serbian intellectuals sold out to the West - packed their bags and left for lucrative careers abroad. This is my message to you: you can’t be complacent,can’t do the same thing to the United States. You can’t help the Disney industry by praising Pixar’s cultural product, this sort of shit is poisoning cultural space, destroying dissent, cultivating a pathological agreement. This is no time for sentimentality, this is the time to rebel.

Anthonia, the problem with being a masochistic bottom is that quasi-democratic YES BUTTISM. Yes Zizek is bad, BUT he is not that bad. Why do you want to defuse the tone of criticism? Why are you selling complacency as some kind of democratism?

By parodycenter on 12/28/07 at 04:00 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh, is what you’re doing criticism? I was unaware that we were passing some kind of judgment. I think Zizek is quite good on lots of things or at least interesting. I think the whole notion that he can be blamed for the breakup of Yugoslavia or the imperialist rhetoric of fundamentalist Christianity is a sure sign of idiocy.

By Anthony Paul Smith on 12/28/07 at 05:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Joseph: “Of course, more than style and aesthetics is at stake here; for example, repetitive argumentation is a content problem, but just as troublesome as an incongruous style.”

Isn’t repetition an element of style, not of content?

But sure, I think people can ban for content too.  There’s no reason why anyone has to argue with the politely racist guy, or whatever, if that’s not what you want to do.

As for most of the rest of this thread—people with cogent arguments and reasonably intelligent satires have argued against the same kind of constellation that PC argues against, minus the Serbian nationalism, sexism, racism and so on.  And those better arguments / satires / whatever were ignored or not understood.  If you like Zizek in a certain way, it becomes impossible for you to consider any kind of serious criticism outside the approved nibble at the edges here and there—it’s like getting off identifying with Mary Sue Whoever, the youngest ensign in Star Fleet, and then queasily realizing that what you’ve been taking as a personal slam against you for liking that stuff really is a larger critique.

So PC either contributes nothing, or is a might-as-well gesture to be made since if the better stuff is ignored you might as well get lazy, or consists pretty much of their supplemental nationalism, sexism etc.  I can’t see any reason for myself to read them in any of these cases.

By on 12/28/07 at 11:05 AM | Permanent link to this comment

With regard to the characterization of “intellectual” blogging, I mildly got on Scott McLemee’s case about this a while back.  There is a tendency in these environs to refer to intellectual blogging or to academic blogging when what is really meant is humanities blogging, or perhaps humanities-plus-social-sciences blogging.

Not that this kind of nomenclature is that important—but it’s usually used along with a group characterization or assignment, as when n+1 condemned litblogs or when Joseph wrote about the best and worst of intellectual blogs.  As long as everyone reading is from the same subculture, that’s fine; in this case, we all understand that Joseph is referring not to intellectual blogs, but to the kind of blogs that we all read.  But it predictably leads to conflict when it’s read more widely, as statements outside context appear as overclaims.

If I was going to go for a best of 2006 for intellectual blogs, I think it’d have to include something like the RealClimate / Effect Measure phenomenon.  Scientists are turning to blogs to involve themselves in sciento-political issues more “officially” than ever before.

By on 12/28/07 at 02:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

there we go again, Polanski

‘’cogent arguments’’
‘’polite dialogue’’
‘’non-sexist, non-racist, internationalist, feminist’’

anything to avoid saying it like it really is.

if you’d additionally point out WHERE exactly dr. Zizek has been satirized, correctly or wrongly, I’d love to know, because I never saw such a place in my life

By Parody Center on 12/28/07 at 06:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

At what point do we get embarrassed that the most lively conversation at The Valve in a long time concerns blog ethics and people who comment around these parts.

Ya know, Luther, I suspect that the popularity of the topic is only incidentally a matter of its (narcissistic?) reflexivity. It’s mostly that it’s a topic everyone has some thoughts about and where everyone is on a more or less even keel. The moment you introduce, e.g. a post about specific literary texts - even well-known canonical ones - the size of the potential commentariat goes down by two or more orders of magnitude. Everyone may have read Hamlet, but who’s got anything to say about it?

And that, Ray, is why The Valve is such a poor source of literary commentary. If you want some kind of interaction with others - that is, if you want the blog to be robustly interactive, as opposed simply to being a place where people hang their ideas out to dry - you don’t want to devote too many posts to specific texts. Theory’s a better bet because everyone knows something and has some opinion about that. But even here, the commentary’s got to be fairly general. A few specific theorists give traction, but mostly it’s gotta be theory in general.

Not to mention every think else, though I’m not aware of any Valve discussions of kitchen sinks, though Zizek is perhaps the intellectual equivalent. That, no doubt, would explain why he’s now doing New York Times op eds. The “paper of record” has to have everything, kitchen sink included. 

By Bill Benzon on 12/29/07 at 04:16 AM | Permanent link to this comment

“If you want some kind of interaction with others - that is, if you want the blog to be robustly interactive, as opposed simply to being a place where people hang their ideas out to dry - you don’t want to devote too many posts to specific texts."

Maybe we just haven’t found the right way to do ‘textual blogging’ yet. I can’t shake the feeling that you’d get better quality conversation if you didn’t have to keep things ‘fairly general’--my observation has been that the topics or questions on which ‘everybody knows something’ (around here, some some aspects of theory and some theorists, other places more politics) also often seem to be topics on which nobody is really that interested in what anybody else knows or says--that go round and round, or that are combative, not collaborative.  It seems as if there should be some way to use blogging to generate “literary commentary” that focuses on specific texts while drawing people in rather than driving them away...but what is it?

I’m curious (not least because the Valve is sponsored by the ALSC--and yes, I have read the debates about just what, if anything, that sponsorship means): if it’s true that nobody has anything to say about Hamlet here, what are the implications of that? (I take the remark to be using Hamlet to stand for any very widely read lit text, so presumably the implications are not about that play in particular as about what the conditions need to be to say something about any text of that kind on a blog, or on this blog.)

By Rohan Maitzen on 12/29/07 at 04:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m just glad the navel-gazing was elevated by this thrilling discussion of Zizek and the brilliant proposition that Eastern European intellectuals are what was holding their historically throat-biting tribes together.  I mean, how would the US stand up if our intellectuals were, you know, all at MLA or something?  Oops—you mean, there are intellectuals who aren’t members of MLA?  Shizznit.

Bill, you’re making too much sense.  Can’t you and I fight about, like, whether Lynn Spears is the Whore of Babylon?  Or whether Paris Hilton is keeping the US from descending into brutal civil war? 

Here’s my peace-making.  Everybody should go to The Hood Internet and download their free mixtape.  Then they should listen to the R. Kelly-Broken Social Scene mashup (track 25).  Then they should have a happy New Year.  Or we could have a big argument about sampling or rockism or Slate’s triple-decker of ass-hat music critics summing up the year in music by roundly loving up . . . wait for it . . . Brad Paisley. 

http://www.thehoodinternet.com/2007/06/mixtape-volume-one.html

By on 12/29/07 at 05:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The more widely known a text, the more research has to be done before you can even guess whether you’re inadvertantly repeating someone.  Let’s say that someone here did have something to say abour Hamlet. How would it be possible that someone hasn’t already written an essay on it?

This is one of the reasons why I stick to SF.  Why not stay with an under-commented genre?

But in general, the solution to this problem is already known—the “book event”.

By on 12/29/07 at 10:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich,

All the Valve book events (as far as I know) have been on books of criticism.  Do you think that model would work for literary texts?  Perhaps only if the text is “under-commented” enough?

By Rohan Maitzen on 12/29/07 at 11:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

But Rich, does it matter if someone, somewhere, living on a shelf in a journal no one reads, has already said something?  In my experience, if you look hard enough, you’ll find a scholar who has already made your argument—at least in the humanities. 

Intellectual debate and conversation shouldn’t be about making unheard of points.  It’s about spreading ideas, conjuring interest.  If your point has been made, one of two things could happen in a conversation: (a) someone points that out, or (b) someone engages your point.  Even if someone points out where your argument has been made, it shouldn’t mean that a conversation still can’t take place about that argument.

Is there a big difference between one blog post that says X about *Hamlet* and one that says “So-and-so said X about *Hamlet*”?

Here’s a foray: I’ve been making my way through The Iliad, and I finally came upon the famous “Shield of Achilles” episode.  The entire scene takes place in Hephaestus’s workshop, with various mechanical/magical devices around.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this passage might be the first science fiction story.  Sure, it’s magical, but insofar as Hephaestus is the god of industry, it’s also a narrative about imaginary mechanics.  Achilles’s shield is basically a predecessor of the motion picture. 

(Even if someone has said this before—I’ve never read Auerbach’s chapter on it—isn’t it possible to discuss it now?  Not that we should, but just for the sake of argument.)

By on 12/30/07 at 03:47 AM | Permanent link to this comment

But a conversation is a two way street Luther, at least.

I might read Hamlet and make some point that seems salient to me, but it’s distinctly possible that such a point would interest people who have studied Hamlet properly and the debate will quickly be moved to their level of familiarity.

In the case of SF, I found this frequently if I made some general point about the Lord of the Rings.  What I’d say would be true of the book itself but someone who disagreed with me would always pipe up with some section from one of the other Tolkien books which I haven’t read because you know… I have important sitting on my arse and doing nothing that I’d much rather do.

I imagine that this phenomenon would be much worse with Hamlet.

It taps into one of my theories about academia.  Academics aren’t necessarily smarter than the students they teach but they have heard it all before and have knock-down answers prepared :-)

By Jonathan M on 12/30/07 at 07:42 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Maybe on some ideal Internet somewhere, LB.  On the actual Internet, there are any number of people who tell you to read something as a way of stopping conversation, not engaging in it.  Remember the Infinigon?  I mean, there was a case in which Adam R. explicitly started with a) the answer to this problem is known, b) I don’t understand this answer, and c) I invite you to try to help me understand why this is the way it is, and people were incensed that he’d dare to “not listen” to their explanations when they repeated versions of the same material that he hadn’t understood in the first place.  That, by the way, was a good illustration of how civility works in practice, as the people flaming Adam R. were highly civil, and self-congratulatingly so, by virtue of having the right answer or something.

I used to think that something like your “Shield of Achilles” discussion could work as long as no one was invested in positions about the work—if there weren’t academic reputations still to be made by writing about the Iliad.  But, after consideration of the above-mentioned episode, I think not.

By on 12/30/07 at 08:31 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Whatever kind you choose to have, it’s probably important to have a book event soon, to restore some credibility.  (Just like I probably need to write several great posts on The Weblog to restore its credibility—except I’m not going to.)

By Adam Kotsko on 12/30/07 at 02:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

For a book event to happen you need to find a book that a number of people are willing to read. That means they’ve got to move this particular book to the top of a stack that’s already waist-high. A specific literary text is a bad bet for such a book.

By Bill Benzon on 12/30/07 at 02:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

We do need to pull ourselves together and run another event. It’s not a credibility problem - just an ‘it would sure be nice’ problem. I’ve just been too busy to organize anything, and no one else has stepped up. I agree that a fiction title would be good.

By John Holbo on 12/30/07 at 02:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

There have been at least two book events suggested that haven’t gotten off the ground because of apparent lack of interest, or something.  Because the organizers of them have this mysterious ability to get people to write essays about them, and this doesn’t seem to always work.  Wasn’t there going to be one about Frankenstein?  I was vaguely ready to comment about how The Monster tries to act as a traditional faerie or hearth-spirit (doing work mysteriously for the family that he observes) but fails because he’s not part of the natural order.

Hey, maybe someone would be interested in Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus.  It’s Harold Bloom’s favorite book (sort of)—at least, he’s read it hundreds of times and has written fanfic about it.  Surely anyone who either likes or dislikes Bloom would enjoy the opportunity to either study or mock his reading material.  The book itself really needs some kind of high-Theory examination—people, once landed on this far planet, grow alternative sensory organs that make them actual perceive the world differently, so of course they don’t agree on what it contains.  It’s been traditionally read as a sort of Gnostic myth, but could be read as a sort of parody of reading itself.

By on 12/30/07 at 03:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

A Sebald event would garner my support.

By Adam Kotsko on 12/30/07 at 03:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I actually re-read Austerlitz last week, so I’d be up for an Austerlitz-specific or general Sebald event.

By SEK on 12/30/07 at 03:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I wonder if the science blogosphere has such discussions? I do visit some science blogs occasionally, mostly biology and psychology, but I don’t have a sense of what the science blogosphere is like in general. The blogs I do visit are in the business of discuss science in the most general of ways. Where there’s discussion of current work, it’s pitched at the press-release level of comprehension, or perhaps a bit more sophisticated than that. What I don’t see are scientists trying to conduct their professional intellectual work in the blogosphere?

So why should the humanities blogosphere be any different? Sure, anyone can read Wuthering Heights, but that doesn’t mean that anyone should be able to read professional discussion of the novel.

The closer a humanities blog gets to professional discussion, the smaller the readership. That’s OK by me.

Or is it that we really ought to be in the Everything Studies business and that business ought to be accessible to Anyone and Everyone?

By Bill Benzon on 12/30/07 at 04:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Is there nothing in between “professional discussion” and being “accessible to Anyone and Everyone”?  At one time wasn’t the ‘blogosphere’ being touted (or idealized) as the latest version of the intellectual public sphere?  Maybe this kind of aspiration simply faded with experience.  I looked up the ‘infinigon’ thread and I can see how that kind of thing gets discouraging--and it’s not the worst flame war I’ve read, either--but then, it wasn’t a thread based on close reading of a literary text, really, but on some theoretical and mathematical questions, so it doesn’t obviously demonstrate that appeals to reading stop conversations.  In any case, while it’s true that a small readership is predictable and understandable if online professional discussion is the point, I think it remains a question whether that is the point.  After all, many of us have listservs for that kind of thing already; why do it for an audience?

Bill, you say “Theory’s a better bet because everyone knows something and has some opinion about that,” but of course depending on how broadly you mean “everyone,” that’s not really true.  Perhaps on this blog this has become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: your current readers (or, more to the point, your current commenters) are those who rise most eagerly to theoretical questions--those for whom Zizek, for instance, has “traction.” Some of your other readers maybe hang around hoping for some other kind of conversation to break out that they might want to join in.  I do notice the same handful of participants in almost every discussion: it’s a kind of spectator sport, which again seems different from the kind of thing that was (idealistically) imagined for blogging at one time.

Crooked Timber had a book event on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell a while back--some of you may have read it in real time.  It seemed to go well; the author herself contributed.  (I guess that won’t happen if you do a Sebald thing!)

By Rohan Maitzen on 12/30/07 at 08:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I think in light of an epidemic specialization/fragmentation in some (if not most) fields of what one calls “humanities,” The Everything Studies would be quite refreshing - it’s not so long ago that philosophers, for example, considered writing a system as a kind of “science of everything” to be their one and only goal - i suppose we no longer aspire to do so these days, but only, it seems to me, because we no longer believe that such a project would benefit anyone, plus it’s difficult to explain to a hiring committee…

By Mikhail Emelianov on 12/30/07 at 09:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Kind of don’t like the either/or between a blog full of navel gazing posts about blogging or a blog full of pre-cooked writings about literature posted as an Event. 

Isn’t there the blog version of The Gentleman’s “C”?  Posts that are smart and actually about something but that aren’t essays?  As the Valve’s version of “always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” I can say that I tune out when a post comes off as, “Here’s an essay I wrote; now I’ll put it on-line.”

But I taught *Austerlitz* and *The Emigrants* back when I thought contemporary literature was worth reading, so I’d support a Sebald event.

By on 12/30/07 at 09:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rohan: “Is there nothing in between “professional discussion” and being “accessible to Anyone and Everyone”?”

Luther: “Kind of don’t like the either/or between a blog full of navel gazing posts about blogging or a blog full of pre-cooked writings about literature posted as an Event.”

I suggested one possible route between this set of false dichotomies when I mentioned posts about work.  Posts that *are* work are too difficult, posts about anything could be written by anyone, but I think that there is some audience for anyone who writes about their life’s work in a skilled way.

But a good deal of this also seems to fall into the trap of judging success by amount of commentary.  Since I’m not one to be discouraged by disparaging references to navel-gazing about blogging, I have a few relevant pseudo-observations here:

1.  The number of readers of blogs is—who knows how many.  But the number of commenters is, I suspect, either in the thousands or tens of thousands depending on how widely you define your subculture.  For whatever reason, not that many people are willing to comment.  And they are surprisingly stable through time; when I went back to reading global climate change blogs, a good half of the regulars were people I remembered from Usenet a decade earlier.  For literary blogs in English, I suspect that the number of total commenters is in the high hundreds or low thousands.  So really we’re in something that people imagine as a huge global network but that’s really a small town.

2. Really good posts sometimes draw no comment, because people just don’t know what to write other than some burbling congratulation.  Some people aspire to write such posts.  I think that they’re often a sign of (as Joseph wrote all the way back up at the top) too much polish.  On the other hand, anyone can make a long thread of comments with a post designed to start flames, or a contest or something.  The Golden Mean is probably appropriate here: less than five comments mean that the post hasn’t really been discussed, more than ... 50?  100? ... means that it’s not really the ideas in the post being dicussed.

By on 12/30/07 at 10:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You’re right, Rich, the number of comments is no index of the intellectual quality of a post. But if the idea is to have interaction, then, comments are the stuff of that interaction. Whatever sparks interaction, it’s not the intellectual or stylistic qualities of a post. It’s something else.

By Bill Benzon on 12/30/07 at 11:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Are comments the place for real interaction?  I don’t know… by and large I use comments to ask questions or raise short issues.  If a post really gets under my skin (in a good or a bad way) then I’d traditionally go off and write my own blog post in response.

True interaction is when you raise an idea and a bunch of other people react on their own blogs.

By Jonathan M on 12/31/07 at 05:45 AM | Permanent link to this comment

If I’m after interaction, ‘false’ interaction will do nicely.

Thing about literature is, everyone can read a book or a poem or a play. So, one wide-spread assumption as it that, from that it follows that everyone should be able to read what critics have to say about those books, poems, and plays. And thus we could have nice after-dinner chit-chat on literary blogs.

To the extent that the profession has adopted a hermetic view of literature, in which literary texts are said to have hidden meanings, it encourages this view. So we nose about in texts, looking for the hidden meanings and bringing them to light. Surely that process must be open to all as you wouldn’t want the Hidden Meanings of the Canonical Texts to be the private guild knowledge of a Secular Priesthood, would you? Not in a democracy. Yet, even so, the profession has adopted ever more arcane ways of ferreting out those hidden meanings, to the point where we no longer know what those meanings are as they are forever scurrying beyond our grasp.

By Bill Benzon on 12/31/07 at 08:08 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Jonathan M: “True interaction is when you raise an idea and a bunch of other people react on their own blogs.”

Let’s see, a quick count of this thread gives eighteen distinct commenters, four of which do not have their own blogs.  That’s an unusually high number of people with blogs, actually.  But many of these responses, while still interaction, probably aren’t enough by themselves for a blog post.

By on 12/31/07 at 08:39 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I think the whole notion that he can be blamed for the breakup of Yugoslavia or the imperialist rhetoric of fundamentalist Christianity is a sure sign of idiocy.

Anthonia, I’m sorry, I didn’t see this comment before. Of course HE as a single person cannot be blamed, but he stands for this whole self-congratulatory ATTITUDE - how many times did we go through this discussion? - which much of the Anglo-Saxonic Left I encountered seems to share. So he is primarily interesting as a symptom, or better to say a sinthom. Do you even notice to what extent everything and anything Russian or Serbian is systematically excluded from academic discourse in your waters? I was amazed to find out last year that most people in the Netherlands have no clue that Nikola Tesla invented the two-way electric current system. They think he was from Finland. Having told me yesterday that you’re not Zizekian, you are now telling me that you find so many things about him good or interesting (and what are they by the way?), so which is it now, either sit on the potty or get off it.

By Parody Center on 12/31/07 at 08:52 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"True interaction is when you raise an idea and a bunch of other people react on their own blogs.”

The result would be a ‘conversation’ so diffuse it would be nearly impossible to follow or enter in a meaningful way, wouldn’t it?  Linking back and forth would be some help, but taking Rich’s count as accurate, suppose 14 bloggers wrote their own posts instead of commenting here--well, we’d all lose track (and interest) pretty fast, there’s more risk of repetition, less chance of moving collectively towards any kind of agreement or new insight (a slim chance anyway, perhaps, but still a nice possibility, I think)....

By Rohan Maitzen on 12/31/07 at 11:59 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Um, err, I’ve actually learned a thing or two through interaction here at The Valve, & maybe elsewhere as well. Really.

By Bill Benzon on 12/31/07 at 04:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sometimes people do a book event, or a communal reading, by having everyone post on their own blog.  Sometimes a post on one blog will lead to a post or two on others that aren’t simply “Look at post X it’s great”.  Those both work pretty well.  But a good deal of the time cross-blog reactions are a way for each person to take the issue home so that they can present it to their sympathetic commentariat.  Feminist blogs, for instance, have a staple line in critique of other feminist bloggers.  This allows the comment sections of all involved to comment “Oh you’re so right!  I can’t believe that X is so wrong!” to general rejoicing.

By on 12/31/07 at 04:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve been away on vacation; naturally, I would have liked to have responded to these various threads-within-a-thread sooner.

One of the great things about writing for the Valve is that we don’t attempt to be the New York Times Book Review. Honestly, so much of different sorts gets posted here that if you are always thinking about our theory posts, that mainly speaks to your present constellation of interests and concerns.

The small town of commenters is growing. I say this from personal experience: a blog circle has grown up among me and people I know that didn’t exist five years ago, and some of those people are routinely willing to comment, either for the first time ever or for the first time on new blogs.

I’d be thrilled to participate in a Sebald event.

It’s hard to escape the negative connotations of after-dinner chat; it brings to mind too many unpleasant repetitions of somebody being emphatic about how much they loved White Teeth or The Life of Pi, or uttering some truism about deconstruction in The Sopranos. Nonetheless I think that is the ballpark. Personally, as a reader of literary blogs, what I am looking for is a mirror held up to the details of another reader’s experience of books and the culture more generally. I mean those moments in (for example) My Dinner With Andre or In Search of Lost Time where introspection, literary criticism, and the cultivation of sensibility are one.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 01/02/08 at 09:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Happy New Year, everyone!

By Joseph Kugelmass on 01/02/08 at 09:33 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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